« PreviousContinue »
concern about their offspring, who they know will be provided for by those to whom they belong; and even if removed from the scene of their licentious indulgence they would not feel it any sad a shipwreck of their happiness.' p. 72. The better description of people, who value the comfort of domestic happiness, attach themselves almost invariably on the plantation to which they belong.
It is also represented as a hardship, that, • slaves are liable to be sold in the life-time of the
owner for his debts, either by executions at law, - or by decrees of courts of equity; and in the
former case, the laws of the islands have ex. pressly enacted, that they shall be severed from “the estates to which they belong : for the marshall,, or sheriff, is directed, not to take in execution, or sell, the land of the defendant, until he 'has previously sold his slaves, and only in the 'event of the latter not producing a full satisfac« tion of the debt.'
Mr. S. here refers to court acts of the different islands,' but has not quoted them. The law of Jamaica provides, that for payment of debts and * legacies, where other goods and chattels are not sufficient to satisfy them, then so many
many slaves as are necessary may be sold,' 50 Geo. III. c. 21. But here the object clearly is to prevent slaves being sold, if there are other goods and chattels ; and if the law directs that slaves shall be sold in preference to the land, the reason is, that a few of them may be sufficient to discharge the debt, and the
rest will continue to enjoy their homes; whereas, selling the land first, might displace the whole of the people settled upon it, and the master with them. But such executions are rare: if a planter's debt is small, compared with the value of his property, he easily finds accommodation: if it is heavy, he grants a security on his land and slaves, and in this case, they go together. Even in the case of legacies, the almost universal custom is, that the heir, or residuary legatee, burdens himself with them, and keeps the property together.
Sales of slaves, by the provost marshåll, under writs of execution, or venditioni erponas, which present so disagreeable a spectacle, are yet an evil of much less magnitude or extent than is generally supposed in England. Such sales are almost exclusively confined to the slaves of coloured persons, and the lower class of whites, who seldom are land-owners, and whose slaves, employed as menials or mechanics, working wherever employment can be found, have not the same local attachments as the great body of slaves permanently settled on the plantations; and, consequently, if they are more subject to a transfer, they are less affected by it; not unfrequently indeed, they are much benefited. Moreover, these sales, so offensive in appearance, are in many cases, a mere form, to convey a valid title to encumbered property, when, in point of fact, the sale has been by private bargain, with the
previous consent of the slaves to belong to the purchaser-often the person who has them in his employment on hire. For instance, I may own twenty negroes who have been hired for eight or ten years on some particular plantation. I get embarrassed, or die, with judgments on record against me; in either case, these judgments are a bar to a private sale, as I cannot myself, nor, in the case of my death can my executors, grant a valid title; and to get over the difficulty, an arrangement is made to allow the provost marshall to make a nominal sale. This gives to the transaction thé revolting appearance of a forced sale under an execution, while, in point of fact, the slaves continue in their homes, and become attached to the plantation on which they were formerly hired.
Notwithstanding the commercial character of sugar estates, the ruin of the planters, the mort
gages, sales by execution at law,' &c. dwelt on by our author, not on account of the sufferings to the proprietors, but as occasioning the removal of slaves from their homes, I have not, during a residence of twenty years in St. Thomas in the East, one of the largest parishes in Jamaica, known more than two instances there of the slaves being removed from the sugar estates on which they had been settled. These cases occurred at Hampton Court, and Airy Castle estates, which were thrown up, and from which the slaves, much to their joy, were removed in a body to the more
fertile domains of Golden Grove and Duckenfield Hall, in the same neighbourhood; where they may now be considered as permanently attached to the soil, whoever may hold the titles of the estates.
It has been stated, that the slaves sold under executions, are almost all the property of the lower class of whites, and the coloured people who became possessed of them while the African trade was open, or have succeeded to them since. Among other changes, which, since the abolition of that trade, time has been effecting in the colonies, it is not one of the least important, that the negroes are gradually getting into fewer hands. From the people of colour, they are passing to the jobbing gangs of the middle class of white people; and from these again to the plantations, where, in not many years, they will be all fixed, and sales of slaves, except as attached to the soil, will be almost unknown. Amidst all the difficulties of the late disastrous years to the planters, this change has made progress, and a few years of colonial prosperity would, in a great measure, attach the whole body of slaves in the island to the soil. Humanity must wish to see this happy change accomplished; yet such is the perverted view unfortunately taken in the mother country of all colonial matters, that many consider friendship to the slaves can only be evinced by hostility to the masters - that whatever is beneficial to the one class, must be prejudicial to the other;
and hence it has been again and again asserted in the House of Commons, that the prosperity of the planter is injurious to the slave!
The circumstance of General WASHINGTON enfranchising his slaves by will, is here introduced in a note, p. 73, and shews,' says Mr. Stephen, • impressively what he thought of slavery in ge• neral; and WASHINGTON, be it remembered,
did not judge of the state by report,' as too many do in England, and on the report of those who themselves have it on report.
With due submission, the circumstances in which WASHINGTON was placed, were not of an ordinary kind; and he is not a pattern which the generality of mankind can be expected to follow. He was selected by Providence as the man who should have the honour of enfranchising his country, and delivering it from an oppression, not unlike, though much inferior in its violence and pertinacity, to that with which a party now wishes to crush the less powerful colonies of the present day. He had no family; and if it had been otherwise, the offspring of the hero, who is venerated as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his country,' never could have known distress or difficulty. Yet this man was a slave-owner, and a planter in a British colony; and, what is even strange, out of the four chief magistrates who have presided over that country of freemen by